To tie in with Historic Houses’ #medievalmonday theme this week, we caught up with Castle Curator, Julie Biddlecombe-Brown to find out more about the ‘Medieval Fortifications’ at Raby Castle.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, many wealthy families took the decision to fortify their properties. Ongoing conflict with the Scots led many nobles to take additional precautions to defend their families and land. At Raby Castle, an earlier manor was fortified through successive phases of building during the 14th century. The castle belonged to the powerful Nevill family. In 1346 Ralph Nevill had been one of the leaders of English troops at the Battle of Neville’s Cross (just outside of Durham), where a much larger Scottish army was defeated and King David II was captured.  Perhaps this military action led to the decision to increase defences at his family residences? The work at Raby begun by Ralph was continued after his death by his son John, turning it from a Manor into a Castle which included a range of towers, moat, portcullis and crenelations.

Defensively, Raby isn’t an immediately obvious site for a castle – it is not on a peninsula like Durham Castle or a rocky outcrop like Barnard Castle. But there is a natural water supply and it was on a traditional route north to south. This made the location more strategic and worth maintaining as a place of residence.  The fortification work culminated in the granting of a license to crenelate by Bishop Hatfield in 1378. In other parts of the country, such awards were made by the monarch but as part of the palatinate, in County Durham this power rested with the Prince Bishops.

Visitors to Raby Castle today can still marvel at the remarkably intact 14th century fortifications. Whether viewed from afar, or up close on the castle terrace, the remarkable skills of the medieval craftsmen who built the castle are clear to see. Raby has an ongoing programme of maintenance and repair of these historic structures and current work on the Keep Tower roof will help to preserve these magnificent fortifications for generations to come.

Top Image credit: @Chelseachaseslife

To find out more about our castle towers, visit our previous blog below.

The Nevill Gateway

The Nevill Gateway at Raby Castle

‘Hillocks of Stone; The Towers of Raby Castle’

World-class playground designers have started work on our enchanting new children’s adventure play area inside a mysterious forest at Raby Castle.

The project is part of our wider development, known as The Rising, that promises to attract new visitors to the area and create outstanding recreation for the local community.

The bespoke and inclusive playground features a fully accessible boardwalk through our Christmas Tree Plantation, opening a previously inaccessible part of the grounds, as well as three-storey play towers, high-level walkways, tunnels and climbing walls, along with several ground-level play trails and slides.

Our new attraction also has a purpose-built area for toddlers, with mini turrets and lookout decks – conveniently located next to the new split-level café. 

Construction of the playground has also been carefully managed to cause minimal disruption to the natural surroundings of the Christmas Tree plantation, to preserve habitats and ensure ancient trees are un-damaged during the build. 

The Rising’s project director Claire Jones said,

“This carefully considered, new addition to Raby Castle, has been inspired by the historical architectural elements within the castle such as The Neville Gateway, but also the many stories associated with the estate, particularly the Rising of The North.”

Nestled in a stunning woodland within the grounds of Raby Castle, our new adventure play area will be an exciting mix of challenge, discovery, and intrigue for all its visitors, both the young and the young at heart. 

The design also ensures that visitors can sample the stunning views of the castle and grounds from the turrets and towers, while adventurers of all ages wind their way through the wonderful world of woodland play at Raby.

Work started on the playground at the end of last year and the ground was broken by two young local heroes, eight-year-old Ryan Chidzey from Gainford CE Primary and Preschool and eight-year-old Charlotte Hawke from the Federation of Abbey Schools in Darlington, – who won a competition to attend the ceremony with Lord & Lady Barnard and invited dignitaries. 

The wider scheme at Raby Castle, will include the significant restoration and renovation of several historical buildings on the estate, the creation of a new café and events space as well as a new visitor hub and landscaped areas. Work on the two-year construction programme started with the new 300-space car park to service the new attractions. 

Raby Estate owners, Lord and Lady Barnard, have announced a suite of key consultant hires to bring The Rising to fruition, alongside the creation of over 40 new jobs at Raby Castle itself

Lord Barnard said:


“We have now entered the construction phase of this ambitious project, which will deliver wonderful spaces for families to enjoy and to further establish Raby Castle as a must-see visitor destination. This new playground will provide a truly magical space for children and families to enjoy.

“We have spent the last four years planning the development, which promises to put Raby Castle on the map for visitors to the area, as well as providing a beautiful place for the local community to enjoy, all year round.”

The new adventure playground’s build schedule is expected to last a further four months and plans to open at Easter 2022.

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Lord and Lady Barnard

Find out more about The Rising

Find out more about The Breaking Ground event


On the 1st of January 2022, we opened the gates to our beautiful Deer Park, so friends and families could enjoy a leisurely stroll in the fresh air across the grounds – and raise money for our chosen charity of 2022, the Brain Tumour Charity.

We wanted to encourage people to get their walking boots on and to start the new year with a refreshing, socially distanced amble through the wide-open space of the estate’s parkland, which is home to two species of deer; Red Deer, the largest British wild land mammal, and our smaller Fallow Deer.

Volunteers from the Brain Tumour Charity were on hand at the start of the outdoor walk, so all attendees could make a donation towards the organisation and its integral work.

The Stables Café was open on the day too, serving takeaway food and a selection of delicious hot and cold drinks for walkers to enjoy during the event. Any young walkers could burn off any remaining energy at our woodland play area, nestled amongst the castle’s vast woodlands.

Four-legged friends didn’t miss out on the walk as dogs on a lead were also welcome for our New Year’s Day dog walk at 11.30am in the Coach Yard.

Sophie Brown, Events Manager at Raby Castle said:

“We’ve hosted New Year’s Day walks here at Raby before and they have always proved popular as a fantastic way to start the new year.

“Not only can people enjoy the incredible scenery across our park, but they can do so knowing that they are helping a worthwhile cause – it’s a really great incentive and what a positive way to begin 2022.”

We selected the Brain Tumour Charity as our chosen charity for this year after a Teesdale farmer and Raby tenant, Richard Scott, sadly passed away after being diagnosed with a low-grade glioma brain tumour six years ago.

Helen Scott, Richard’s wife commented: “

“To hear that Raby is putting on this fundraising event for an organisation that is so close to our hearts is incredibly moving and we are extremely grateful.

“We hope the walk has a brilliant turnout and the attendees enjoy their time at Raby – their donations will help so many people and families like ours.”

All proceeds of the New Year’s Day walk were given to the world’s leading brain tumour charity and the largest dedicated funder of research into brain tumours globally.

The Brain Tumour Charity’s community fund-raiser for the North East, Helen Rogers added:

“Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of the under 40s and survival rates have not improved significantly over the last 40 years. We are leading the way in changing this by fighting brain tumours on all fronts.

“We receive no government funding and rely 100% on voluntary donations, so it’s only through the thoughtfulness of businesses like Raby Estates, and people’s generous support,  that we can change these shocking statistics in the future and bring hope to the thousands of people who are diagnosed with a brain tumour every year.”

With the help of our wonderful visitors, we managed to raise £2,746.74 for the Brain Tumour Charity. To find out more about this incredible charity please visit their website.

If you would like to come and visit us, our Deer Park is currently open daily 10am – 4pm and, as an added bonus for January and February, we are also opening our Castle Terrace which has incredible views across the park. To find out more and book your admission please visit our What’s On page.

We are thrilled to receive Visitor Economy Award as part of The Northern Echo County Durham Together Awards, in partnership with Durham County Council.

This award recognises our role in helping to promote County Durham as a safe and rewarding place to visit, our support of the hospitality and tourism sector and help in sustaining the visitor economy.

We were delighted to welcome visitors back to both Raby Castle, Park and Gardens and High Force Hotel and Waterfall as part of our careful and phased reopening, which has prioritised the safety of our staff and visitors. We introduced measures right across our sites to meet government and industry COVID-19 guidelines and we were pleased that this led to us becoming one of the first tourism destinations in County Durham to be awarded Good to Go status by VisitEngland.

Following feedback from our regular visitors, we know that Raby’s wide-open spaces, diverse wildlife and natural surroundings have been a lifeline to many people during the pandemic. Spending time in our beautiful natural environment can certainly enhance our health and wellbeing and we are proud to share these spaces with our many visitors at both Raby Castle, Park and Gardens and High Force Waterfall. Thank you to all our visitors for our continuous support and enjoyment.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. What a fantastic evening which continues to make us truly proud to be part of County Durham 👏

It’s starting to feel very Christmassy at Raby this week. Our Coach Yard is aglow with twinkling lights and Christmas trees are lining up ready to be taken home. There are plenty of opportunities to pick up that extra-special gift for a loved one. Lisa Wilkinson our new retail manager has the shop looking better than ever before. Come along to our Christmas Market on Saturday 4th and 5th of December. Or pop along to our Christmas Shop to find high-quality and unique presents. From children’s toys, to beautiful decorations, local produce and homeware, there is something for everyone.

Here is a round-up of our favourite items you can find in our Stables Shop:


These delectable goodies make the perfect gift for chocolate lovers. From special truffle collections to milk and dark chocolate, all beautifully wrapped in quirky packaging. Treat someone special to Rococo’s handcrafted, luxury items. Lord Barnard’s favourite chocolates!

Rococo Chocolates

FROM £2.50

Give your presents a final flourish with our assortment of festive wrapping, ribbons, and cards. Explore our unique prints and designs in the Stables Shop.

Christmas Cards and Wrapping

FROM £14.99

Winter is the perfect time to cosy up with a hot drink and a book. Get lost in the magic of words, whether you want to escape to the wild isles, perfect your cooking skills or enjoy the art of poetry, there is a lovely collection of books on display.

Selection of Books from the Stables Shop


Give a lasting gift that a loved one can enjoy for the years to come. Browse our selection of handmade ceramics and homeware.


FROM £4.50

Looking for that something to give an extra sparkle to your Christmas display? We’ve got a variety of wonderful baubles, rocking horses, candles, toy soldiers and radiant items dotted around our Christmas Shop. We’ve even got a fairy for the tip-top of your tree.

Christmas Decorations

£7.95 – 28.00

Our children’s corner is packed with games, activities and books for the whole family to enjoy. From puzzles to games , cuddly toys and sticker books.

Handmade Wooden Toys


Enjoy your daily brew in a special handmade mug from our Stables Shop.

Handmade Ceramics


SM £5.99
LG £19.99

We’ve got lots of Raby produce on offer this year. From Raby sloe gin to ginger wine and Christmas cakes. Take a piece of Raby home with you this Christmas.

Raby Cakes and Produce

Our Christmas Shop will be open daily throughout December from 10am – 4pm.

27th November 2021

Following the storm, many parts of the Raby Estate in County Durham are still without power or connectivity.

Our team have been working tirelessly to assess the damage and to prioritise the reinstatement of water supplies, along with identifying vulnerable people within our community.

We will liaise closely with Northern PowerGrid and post any updates we receive.

Please note The High Force Hotel & Waterfall are now back open as normal.

Thank you for your cooperation.

2nd December 2021

The power supply has thankfully been restored at High Force Hotel. We are delighted to be able to offer a warm space for the local community and visitors during this challenging time.

Our fires will be lit offering a toasty space, a limited food offer, (until we can fill our fridges again!) and free WIFI. For any local residents who are still without power, we have a guest room available for you to take a hot shower. Please just bring towels and toiletries and ask our friendly staff at the bar who will be happy to help.

Thank you for your cooperation whilst we’ve been closed. We wish everyone well and hope that our usual service will resume next week.

Considering the hotel was working hard to manage after a big storm which had taken out all power we were given the warmest of welcomes. A roaring fire was the perfect tonic to the nippy weather and the homemade soup was delicious. Next time we would like to stay as a hotel guest. A lovely place with a big heart.Jill Clarke

This Christmas our mince pies are inspired by a recipe that has been enjoyed at Raby Castle for almost 250 years.

Hidden in the Raby Castle archives, a handwritten ‘receipt’ book, dating back to the late 18th century, features a recipe for Lady Hewitt’s Mince Pies. Although we have yet to discover Lady Hewitt’s connection to Raby, her recipe was clearly a favourite that was passed on to the Countess of Darlington, who like many modern foodies, carefully copied the recipe into her own notebook for posterity. Lady Hewitt’s mince pies feature all of the traditional ingredients of a good mince pie: from mixed peel to currants, apples and of course a hearty slug of brandy!

Mince Pies Recipe

Our Raby Castle Christmas Mince Pies will be on sale throughout December at the Stables Cafe and Refreshment Kiosk.

Here’s the recipe for you to try at home.

Raby Castle Christmas Mince Pies

Preparation time: Less than 30 mins

Cooking time: 20 mins

Serves: Makes 12 deep mince pies


For the pastry
375g Plain Flour
250g Butter, Softened
125g Caster Sugar, Plus 20g for dusting
1 Medium Free-Range Egg

For the filling
170g Bramley Apple, Peel, core and finely dice
1 Large orange (use zest and juice)
1 Lemon unwaxed, Cut rind with no pith, juice Half
100g Caster Sugar
120g Vegetable Suet
Pinch Sea Salt
225g Currants
75ml Brandy

You will need a deep muffin mould with 12 holes, a large round pastry cutter, and a medium pastry

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  2. To make the sweet pastry, rub the flour, butter, sugar and egg together with a splash of cold water until it just comes together as a dough. Do not over work the dough. Wrap the pastry in cling film and set aside to chill in the fridge while you make the filling.
  3. To make the filling,  boil the lemon rind in water until soft. Discard the water and fine chop the lemon rind.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients, allow to soak for 30 min, or overnight if possible to let the flavours develop. The mincemeat filling will last for up to 2 weeks in sealed jar.
  5. Roll out the pastry to a 3mm/1/8in thickness. With the large round pastry cutter, cut out 6 x 9cm/3½in discs of pastry. Press the pastry into the muffin cups and fill each one with a good helping of the mincemeat mixture, so that it reaches three-quarters of the way up the side of the pastry-lined cup.
  6. With the medium pastry cutter, cut out 6 x 8cm/3¼ in pastry circles for the lids (slightly bigger than the top of the muffin cups). Place a lid on top of each pie and gently push down. Brush with cold water and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  8. Lightly dust with sugar.

Download our Raby Castle Christmas Mince Pies Recipe


As the nights draw in and the autumn colours begin to give way to winter, thoughts turn towards Christmas and for the forestry team, Christmas trees.

The tradition of bringing a tree into the home for the festive period started in 16th Century Germany, however in Britain it became fashionable in the mid 1840s when Queen Victoria & Prince Albert were pictured with their children around a decorated Christmas tree. Decorations may have moved on from candles and treats to the glass baubles and fairy lights of today, but for many of us Christmas is not the same without a real tree.

Here at Raby, we grow 5 species of Christmas tree.

Forestry Team Transporting Christmas Trees

In recent years Nordman fir has become the most popular choice with its dense green foliage and excellent needle retention. Fraser fir offers a more compact tree where space in the home is more limited but still with great needle holding ability. Norway spruce, seen by many as a traditional Christmas tree, offers a cost-effective option with trees sheared to give a well-shaped, bushy appearance and the smell many of us associate with a good, fresh tree. We also grow a small number of noble fir and blue spruce, both of which offer something a little different, with a blue-green tinge to the foliage.

Whilst the Christmas tree harvesting will get underway in late November, as we present trees for the Christmas Shop and to decorate Raby Castle and the gardens trail, the work to grow these trees began several years ago.

Forestry Team


It can take 8-12 years to grow a good quality tree during which time regular weeding, pruning and shearing is required.

The trees are typically 20-40cm in height when planted and can be 4-14 feet in height when cut, offering a significant choice for our customers, to find a tree that will fit in most homes or gardens. Having a wide range of trees for people to select adds to the overall Christmas experience and it is great to see so many customers return year on year to choose their tree, often making it a day out with family and friends.

This year we are offering a recycling service in 2nd – 9th January, by which trees purchased from the Estate can be returned for chipping to be used on the paths or as a mulch. Whilst we are looking forward to the buzz of the Christmas period, we are also thinking ahead to the new year when we will begin to prepare the plantations and plant new stock to start the cycle once again.

Geoff Turnbull
Head Forester

The Raby Forestry Team

Brian Teasdale, Kevin Todd, Peter Archer and Trevor Slack

Forestry Team with Head Forester, Geoff Turnbull

Forestry Team with Head Forester, Geoff Turnbull

The weeks leading up to Christmas are a lively period at the High Force Hotel and Waterfall. From roaring fires to festive food and friendly faces, it’s a special destination for a winter getaway. We caught up with new Head Chef Ben Heath to get a glimpse into the festive preparations. Ben started with us at Raby in October 2021 and is excited to bring a new flair for food to the table. Find out how his career has led him to Raby and what enticing flavours you can expect this Winter season.

Originally from Hartlepool, but having grown up in the South West, Ben began his early career studying forensic biology at the University of Glamorgan. A far leap from the likes of cooking it might appear. However, having decided this was not quite the right path for him, Ben was taken under the wing of his Uncle, Chef David Newstead and introduced to the world of cooking. The scientific approach of measuring ingredients and following a structured process to create a final dish appealed to Ben, “cooking is a science” he says. This experience sparked a longstanding passion for Ben which he grew through working in a number of prestigious restaurants in London, before returning to the North East where he continued building his career at venues including Wynyard Hall and The Auckland Project. Now happily living in Bishop Auckland, Ben loves the feeling of being “surrounded by culture” with the wealth of historic spaces, live music and restaurants on his doorstep. Having amassed a wealth of techniques from working with many Chefs and venues, he began increasingly experimenting with new flavours and combinations, developing his own style.

“I’ve always viewed cooking as a science and that when you’re putting things on a plate it becomes an art form. The way I see it, in a scientific method you take x reactents, put them under x conditions for x amount of time and you get x product. In cooking you take x ingredients – it’s exactly the same but it’s edibile!”

Raby Head Chef, Ben Heath

Raby Head Chef, Ben Heath

Ben was excited by the new Head Chef position at Raby, especially due to the local Longhorn venison and meats produced on the Estate. It would give him the opportunity to explore his style through new game dishes, such as his Pheasant Special. Ben’s cooking influence has largely come from European dishes, particularly French and Italian, which you can see reflected in the new menus at the Hotel. Interspersed with this you’ll see a peppering of Indian dishes from his time in London.

This December at the High Force Hotel, visitors can expect to see a new Winter menu on offer, as well as a distinct Christmas Day menu. Choices will feature a roast beef dish with garlic and thyme mashed potato and a brandy mushroom sauce. There will also be a vegetarian option of butternut squash with spinach and ghost’s cheese pithivier alongside a vegan puff pastry pie. Ben is looking forward to launching the new Winter menu and introducing a festive palette. Experience fruity flavours including traditional cranberry sauce alongside a hint of brandy, chestnuts and seasonal produce.

Garden Room

(c) Daniel Casson

If you’re looking for a special Christmas experience this year, treat yourself and a loved one to festive fine dining after a wintery walk to High Force Waterfall. Or extend your stay and cosy up in one of our luxury en-suite bedrooms. Call us on 018233 622 336 to book a table or book accommodation online at

An important building of huge historical interest to the area has this week been launched onto the rental market. Restoration work to the structure and exterior is currently taking place which will remove the Hall from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

Grade one listed Gainford Hall, a Jacobean manor which sits on the Raby Estate, is part of a key redevelopment plan, The Rising, that will breathe new life into several historic buildings, including several heritage structures within the grounds of Raby Castle itself.

In a move that sees a renaissance of the iconic local gem for residential use, national agents Savills have been retained to market the home, which has the potential to include eight bedrooms, two large reception rooms, kitchen, pantry, attic, and basement space.

Gainford Hall was built in the early 17th Century for John Cradock, Vicar of Gainford and retains many of its original features, including a full height porch, split-level interior, original fireplaces, central chimney stacks and plasterwork.

Raby Estate’s CEO, Duncan Peake, said: “Our plans for Gainford Hall represent a number of significant improvements across the Estate which will help to stimulate economic regeneration and new employment throughout the local area.

“The hall hasn’t been touched for well over 100 years, so the current project will play an important part in its history.

“There is huge scope for the right tenant to take Gainford Hall and work with us to create a bespoke space that is tailored to their needs. Key renovations to the hall are well underway but we have kept the internal space flexible, in order for the new tenant to make their own mark.”

Working with historical buildings architects Donald Insall, renovation work is due to be completed by the end of this year and includes extensive restoration of external features such as the lead windows and repairs to the stonework, as well as several outbuildings which served the hall in the 18th and 19th centuries and are now being repurposed for modern day use.

These buildings, together with an area of land adjacent to the site could also be available to interested tenants.

Duncan continues: “Gainford Hall presents a unique opportunity to live within a piece of local history, but also to redefine the building for the modern age. There is so much scope for this site – I am very excited to work with its eventual tenant to realise its full potential.”

Gainford Hall is being marketed by Savills York and director Matthew Watson, said: “The Raby Estate is currently undergoing a renaissance, so this presents a unique opportunity for the future long-term tenant to work alongside the estate to create a bespoke home, to fulfil their needs.

As part of the estate’s renovation work, there will also be scope for a multitude of businesses to be located on the site which we anticipate will generate wide-ranging interest amongst those looking to redress their work-life balance.”

For further details, https://search.savills.com/property-detail/uk006537841

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